The Federal Trade Commission is working on new internet privacy rules that affect the collection, analysis and sale of personal information, rather than waiting for Congress to introduce commercial surveillance legislation.
Private companies that monitor people’s web browsing and purchase histories, locations and movements, health data and other information spurred the independent agency to enact new regulations.
Monday ended a period for the public to comment on how the agency should write new rules that could dramatically transform the way businesses operate and people’s online lives, meaning the federal government has an impediment to creating the rules is cleared out of the way.
FTC Chair Lina Khan said her team is working to determine whether unfair and deceptive data practices warranted the federal government enacting new “market-wide rules” rather than addressing issues on a case-by-case basis.
“Companies collect data about where we go, what we read, who we meet, what we buy, and research has found that many Americans have limited insight into what information is collected about them and how it is used, sold or stored . and that even if people do know, they may have no real choice but to consent to these practices,” Ms Khan said at a meeting in September.
Ms Khan said the collection of data treasures has coincided with hacks and leaks and other security flaws that have exposed people’s information, which can lead to identity theft, discrimination and other harm.
The FTC is not only concerned about how people’s data is collected, but also how it is analyzed and stored. An FTC briefing on the upcoming rules said the agency is concerned about algorithms that study human behavior and how companies are selling such information to advertisers.
The agency published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register in August and received nearly 1,000 comments before Monday’s deadline.
Opponents and skeptics of the agency’s plan argue that the FTC’s proposal is unreasonably broad and unjustifiable.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau said the FTC is poised to make sweeping changes without clearly explaining what the government intends to do. The bureau said it represents more than 700 companies, and its website said the list of general members includes prominent companies including CNN, Fox News, Google, Twitter, TikTok, Taco Bell, Comcast and Best Buy.
“While the ANPR seeks to focus on two key practices, ‘commercial surveillance’ and ‘lax data security’, these practices are so broad that it is almost impossible to understand the areas under scrutiny by the Commission,” wrote the office of the FTC earlier this month.
The bureau said the FTC’s definition of commercial surveillance could include any online activity that uses consumer data, which the bureau said would affect “almost every sector of the economy.”
Other critics have said that the FTC does not have the proper authority to issue such regulations.
The libertarian-leaning R Street Institute said the FTC’s proposal goes well beyond what Congress has authorized.
“Contrary to the narrower view of Congress for the FTC, the ANPR 95 asks questions on a wide range of topics, from biometrics to targeted advertising,” the R Street Institute said. “The issues of the rules may go even further, as the ANPR states that it does not identify the full scope of potential approaches that the FTC could pursue through a rule.”
Federal lawmakers have tried and failed to push new privacy laws. Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington, introduced America’s Privacy Act in June, which aims to minimize the collection of personal information, allow people to opt out of targeted advertising and establish a new privacy office within the FTC.
The bill ran into a roadblock with Senate Democrats, and Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell of Washington said there was no chance her Democrats would put the bill to a vote.
If Congress decides to reconsider privacy legislation next year, Ms Khan has made it clear that the FTC would reevaluate its actions, but she had no intention of stopping without solid new rules.
“If Congress passes tough federal privacy laws — which I hope — or if there is some other significant change in applicable law, the Commission could reassess the added value of those efforts and whether it makes sense to continue with resources,” Ms Khan wrote in an August Note in the Federal Register.